State Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, apologized Monday afternoon for a controversial meme she shared on her personal social media accounts that drew national backlash including reported death threats.
The meme she reshared Saturday depicts an elderly woman holding a rifle with a scope and the words "Auntie Fa Says protect trans folks against fascists & bigots!"
The name "Auntie Fa" is a homonym for Antifa, a left-wing anti-fascist political group.
"I apologize for failing to recognize the potential impact of my actions on social media, which have contributed to inflammatory and distracting online discourse", Provenza said in a Facebook statement. "Especially in these divisive times, we must always maintain focus on working toward collaborative solutions to the problems facing our state and its residents."
Provenza has since deleted the posts.
Backlash, Death Threats
In a Monday afternoon press release issued after Provenza's statement, Wyoming House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, said Provenza has received death threats over the incident.
"The issuance of death threats against an elected official in any context or anyone else is reprehensible and unlawful", Sommers said. "There is simply no room in the legislative sphere for use of fear or threatened violence."
Provenza did not immediately respond about the nature of the alleged death threats or how many she received.
Sommers also condemned Provenza's post and said that "the implication that violence is necessary to solve political differences has no place in the Wyoming Legislature."
He said Provenza's apology "recognizes and apologizes for the potential negative impact of her post."
"Civility is the basic expectation of how a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives should conduct themselves, both on and off the floor of the House," he said.
Wyoming Democratic Party Chairman Joe Barbuto said he appreciates Provenza's call to focus on the states problems in her follow-up statement.
Barbuto did not respond when asked whether the Wyoming Democratic Party plans to address Provenza's original post or take any other action against her.
Arming The LGBTQ Community
Provenza in her Monday afternoon statement explained the message behind the meme: "arming and protecting the LGBTQ community, a group of people" she said "depend upon Second Amendment protection."
There are groups organized for this cause to serve at events such as drag shows and gay pride parades, which are attended frequently by armed protestors. In 2022, authorities arrested 31 members of a white nationalist militia, including two Wyoming residents, for conspiring to attack a pride parade in Idaho.
"Queer and trans people are disproportionately victims of violence, targeted because of their sexuality and gender expression, including in Wyoming," Provenza said.
It was in Provenza's home community of Laramie that a homosexual man, Matthew Shepard, was tortured and killed in 1998.
A recent Laramie survey showed that 55% of teachers and students believe transgender children in their schools are targeted and bullied.
Last week, a transgender man, Audrey Hale, 28, killed six people at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, in a mass shooting.
The Wyoming Freedom Caucus, a hardline social-conservative group of state delegates, called out Provenza's post on Twitter on Sunday.
"Not even one week after a radical transgender activist slaughtered 6 Christians, including 3 children, a Wyoming Legislator for HD45 shares a disgusting call for further violence, reads the tweet. The Wyoming Legislatures House Minority Whip should be ashamed of herself."
Breitbart News later covered Provenza's post, as did Fox News on Monday.
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs' press secretary resigned last week for posting a photo of a woman holding a pistol in both hands with fingers on the trigger and the caption, "Us when we see transphobes."
The press secretary's meme came shortly after Hales shooting.
"The WY State Representative of HD45 should be held accountable for her messaging on social media condoning violence," Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said Sunday on Facebook. "This is unacceptable and nothing about it is okay."
Provenza also posted a video on her personal TikTok last June featuring a voiceover of a bobbing electric eel, calling for politically motivated murders.
Sommers hasn't before issued a statement directly condemning a member of the Legislature since becoming Speaker in January. He said he wants "members of the Legislature to be more cognizant about what they post on social media."
Ultimately, Representative Provenza's post was not only inappropriate conduct for a member of the House of Representatives, but it also serves to divide our state, Sommers said.
Rodriguez-Williams told Cowboy State Daily she suspects Sommers and Legislative Service Office Director Matt Obrecht will receive multiple formal ethics complaints regarding last weekends post.
In his press release, Sommers intimated he has already received these.
Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, is vice chairman of the Freedom Caucus and said there would be intense outrage if a conservative legislator made a similar post regarding protecting a value they held dear.
"It's very frustrating," he said. "If somebody put out that type of meme in another light, there would be all kinds of backfire on them."
In 2021, state Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, faced significant backlash for a Facebook post he made saying people need to proverbially fix bayonets against the State Legislature for its actions, or lack thereof, during the 2021 special session on COVID-19 restrictions.
"The reality is, we never want to see violence," Haroldson said. "The key problem is resorting to violence to protect themselves."
"Although there are no bullets spraying out of the rifle held by the elderly woman in Provenza's post, Haroldson finds it to be a threatening image nonetheless."
"Its still brandishing a weapon," he said. "It doesn't really matter if its spraying out bullets or not. The message is wrong. Thats a very wrong thing."
A Clear Difference
The Democratic Minority Whip, Provenza said in her statement there is a "clear difference" between using guns for mass shootings and using them for self-defense.
She reiterated that she is pro-Second Amendment and voted for legislation in the most recent session that gives gun ownership rights back to non-violent felons.
"I respectfully encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to remember these conversations, and to remember their response when anti-gun groups tried to use tragic mass shootings to paint all gun owners as violent", she said. "I do not wish violence on anyone, but I believe that Americans have the right to defend themselves and their communities and that right extends to all of us."
Provenza's original post came one day after the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which she said she posted the meme to observe. The day is dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide, as well as celebrating their contributions to society.
Provenza has long been one of the most outspoken Democrats in the Wyoming Legislature and one of, if not the most, progressive politically.
In this years Legislature, she vehemently opposed a bill prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls sports, calling it an affront to the Constitution.
Haroldson said a transgender girl competed against his daughter in a high school track meet last weekend.
"This is real, its here," he said.